What Would Free Community College Mean for Your Transfer Policies?

President Obama's proposal to offer free community college has been called one his most ambitious, expensive and likely controversial initiatives for the coming year.   At the state level, an increasing number of states have already implemented or are considering tuition-free community college policies. How should two-year and four-year institutions adapt to best accommodate the increase of community college students and transfer credits?

Tom Green and Michele Sandlin from AACRAO Consulting will hold a session at AACRAO's Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD to examine common issues and benefits of transfer agreements, proven models of effective transfer programs and best practices.

See this session and others at AACRAO's 101st Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD.  Register today!

Tom Green

Associate Executive Director, Consulting and SEM


Michele Sandlin

Senior Consultant

AACRAO Consulting

What Would Free Community College Mean for Your Transfer Policies?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Tell us a little bit about your session.

Green: Lately, we noticed that the increase in transfer students across the country has often placed strains on four-year and two-year institutions to effectively respond to student requests to use their credits toward a degree.  Another emerging trend has been the rapid increase of students seeking to use transfer credits to earn degrees at two-year colleges. 

The concept of free community college tuition that President Obama recently introduced in his State of the Union speech but already available in programs such as the Tennessee Promise and the Delaware SEED Scholarship Program means that an increased number of students will participate in community college education.  Our session is designed to address some of the issues that would arise from an increased participation rate in community colleges.

How did the idea of free community college get so popular?

Sandlin: President Obama was first introduced to the idea by his White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.  Emanuel initially proposed the idea of two free years of college in his book The Plan: Big Ideas for America published in 2006.  When he became mayor of Chicago in 2011, Emanuel learned that while the city's businesses could create hundreds of thousands more jobs, there were not enough community college students who could become qualified to fill these open positions.  The President’s excitement about free community college started with the creation of programs such as the one started in Chicago and Tennessee.

Green: The idea of free community college tuition has been more of a state initiative than a national initiative for a long time.  You could also go all the way back to the 1960's with California's Master Plan for Higher Education, where junior colleges, or JuCos, had free tuition.  

Today, almost half of all students start their higher education path in a two-year institution.  The readiness of institutions across the country to work with transfer credits varies by a considerable amount, to put it kindly.  Most institutions struggle with efficiently and effectively assessing and applying transfer credits toward the student's degree program.

How would these changes affect our members?

Green: This is going to have a big impact on all our members. The ability of colleges and universities to seamlessly and quickly assess and apply transfer credits to a student's degree program will have a large impact on their enrollment. Transfer credits affect the student record. Many of our members handle transfer credits and student records day-to-day, so they will be keenly aware of subsequent transfer credit policy changes.  Enrollment management professionals also need to understand how any changes in transfer credit policy might affect long-term enrollment numbers.

As states turn to lower cost or free tuition for community colleges, two-year institutions will have to accommodate a much larger pool of students without a lot more resources. Four-year institutions will have to rely on two-year schools heavily for enrollment, so they must establish strong inter-institutional partnerships.

Sandlin: Admissions officers will also have to quickly process credits so potential transfer students can have a full picture of how their credits will transfer.

A lot of institutions do not have streamlined articulation agreements with other schools.  In this new environment, the community colleges will probably be putting more pressure on four-year institutions for reverse transfer policies to make sure their transfer and articulation pathways are streamlined.

What are you looking forward to at the Annual Meeting?

Green: Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a gem -- full of restaurants and nightlife.  Attendees will really enjoy the conference and I hope they will find time to explore the Inner Harbor.